Do you think people are getting smarter? Do you think we know more about the risks inherent in running economies and businesses? Do you think we will look to others to work out what we should do? Do these sound like loaded questions? Of course they are, however there is a point to be made. Knowing more doesn’t stop us being human and making the same errors people have in the past. The context and details may differ however the errors are the same.
History Repeats Itself
In early 18th century France an investment bubble developed around shares in the Mississippi Company. Trading over a period became frantic. Normally sober people found themselves investing and those who recognised what was happening were sometimes mocked and just as often developed significant doubt about their attitudes to the trade. At dinner parties, being the only person who seems not to be making great profits can be a deflating experience. Even the person responsible for the float of the company could not dissuade people from being overzealous. Of course the company went bust. It is all beautifully chronicled in Charles Mackey’s entertaining “Extraordinarily Popular Delusions And The Madness of Crowds” published in 1841. It’s a great read as an introduction to what would now be referred to as behavioural economics. And more importantly to draw parallels to the boom phase that led up to the crash in 2007/8. There is the possibility it could be applied to the inflated Australian markets as well.
When change is the norm then it goes largely unnoticed (and mostly unrewarded). Often with unintended consequences.
Anyone who has a school-age child will have asked, “What did you do at school today?”. The typical answer is, “Nothing”. As adults are we all that different or are some things just part of the human condition? Following up on planning or change-oriented workshops it is not unusual to hear the lament, ” it was a waste of time, nothing has changed!”. And they could be right … however, it’s worth taking a closer look and providing some feedback.
In any change situation there is going to be better results if there is reliable, valid and timely evidence and feedback. And who has access to that can make a profound difference.
This is what my head told me I was doing!
Brisbane has long history of producing world champion swimmers (Leisel Jones, Keiren Perkins, Hayley Lewis) and many more have trained here. I’m not one of them. I’ve been encouraged and given feedback as I happily churned out a few laps at the University of Queensland pool or perhaps the Centenary Pool. Keep my head down, lengthen my stoke, reach out more, keep my hips higher, increase my kick rate and breath both sides. I worked at everything I was told and there was almost no improvement in my results. I thought doing it harder and getting stronger would help. It didn’t, at least not much! Then something important happened.
Kate Ceberano in concert has almost nothing to do with this article however you can bet both the wonderful bassist and Kate have had a lot of coaching and performance opportunities. And I just loved their performance and the photo.
Coaching and counselling opportunities have provided both professional highlights and disappointments. Some opportunities were specifically commissioned while others just occurred within or around ongoing consulting work. Early cases that motivated and changed me were mainly the second type and usually when there was sufficient time. The following is one of the earliest I remember well. I was involved in a restructuring initiative and temporarily had line responsibility.
Rod was mid to late twenties in a clerical administrative role working in an investment organisation. He was sharp, sarcastic, wary of the executives and labeled by those executives as disrespectful, rude, lazy etcetera. He was also articulate, insightful, well read and Continue reading →
Our brains are well conditioned to see what they expect. Image from: Illusions.org
We all make the mistake, even when we know better. If something is good then more must be better. A nice, straight, linear relationship … except it’s not … and very rarely is! At some point exercise will just injure and fatigue us, the extra serve of ice cream stops being a treat, working longer doesn’t improve your work performance and trimming more costs can make matters worse, etcetera. In these cases, there’s an inverted U relationship. Recognising when something else is going on can make you a better consultant, manager, and person.
Our day to day lives makes us familiar with other relationships in specific situations such as recognizing some diminishing returns relationships. That is, doing more will lead to improvements but less improvement for the same increase in effort. Weight loss could be an example. Another familiar relationship is in consumer pricing where the addition of more benefits and features leads to big increases in price (a logarithmic relationship). Mostly we’ve learned to expect these relationships and they influence how we think in a variety of situations however there is any number of things where we don’t know what to expect. We can’t be so certain what the relationship is. When that happens then logical errors are much easier to make e.g. if the threat of jail stops some crime then increasing the harshness of sentences will stop more crime. Perhaps, I don’t know exactly, however, the US has the death penalty and a very high murder rate for a western country, so maybe not. Perhaps you have to do other things if you want the murder rate to come down.
Very few social relationships will be as simple as those above and yet often we act as if even these are too difficult to consider.
I have spent my whole professional career working in what could be called ‘change management’. In recent years the term and it’s practices have been more widely adopted and in some cases has been productised by consultancy providers (ADKAR, KOTTER, Agile). Here is just a few things I have learnt and had reinforced along the way:
Innovation (Innovative): The successful application of a new and or improved method or technology to meet a requirement, articulated or not. What leaders want more of, while rationing the permission to do it. Also, a term that will appear, and be used somewhere within a job description, job application, and an interview – probably more than once. The scale of innovation will not defined. It may be incrementally small or transformationally large. A ‘large‘ innovation is likely to lead to a waterfall of smaller innovations. Mimicry is a common form of innovation – applying a known idea but in a new setting. Mimicry is almost hard-wired into us and is one of our earliest learning strategies.
Failed innovation will optionally be referred to as a lesson or just as likely, reckless experimentation, incompetence, unnecessary risk-taking or some other term that can be career limiting. Risk taking is inherent to most innovations.
It is not unusual for innovations to be occurring in an organisation or even a society without people paying too much attention. Continue reading →